HUSTINGS are magnificent, old-fashioned affairs. Hopefuls seeking votes are put to the test by the electorate and each other in an open, transparent public forum. No hiding place, no editorial agenda just people, their words, their ideas, their hopes and the chance to convince.
My sense is that we are ready for lots of this as we judge who is best to represent us at Westminster with the general election in May.
I have been invited to my first hustings of the year on Tuesday at Wester Hailes. The Edinburgh South West constituency of the SNP is hearing from eight nominated candidates which in and of itself is a remarkable thing. Even more so though is that the party membership in the seat has 1,362 people eligible to vote, and I will be there as one of them. They will all have the chance to choose who represents the SNP in the election for a constituency currently served by Alistair Darling who is, of course, retiring after a very distinguished career. I wish him well.
All of this matters for all of us. The quality of the people who represent us at all levels in politics determines the standard of our public life, policy and discourse. Those who put themselves forward for public service should be thanked. But the checks and balances in the process to reach elected office are, and should be, exacting.
Parties succeed when they are clear on their purpose, well led and unified behind achieving their goals. Parties that are not, always, always fail.
So the health and vibrancy of the parties’ candidate selection is an important part of the democratic process. The SNP has hundreds of candidates available for the 59 contestable seats. The responsibility on its members, many of whom are new, is real. But that is democracy.
The party nationally vets people who seek nomination to be sure that they are fit and proper for office. But that check can only ever be relatively basic. Potential candidates are grilled to gauge their ability to represent the party and lead a local campaign selflessly, as they must.
If someone wants the party nomination, it must be about the party and their collective goals, not about the individual. There is huge scope for talent to shine within parties. People of substance can change the way parties think and properly lead society while working as a team to deliver on the team’s goals. Prima donnas are ten a penny. No harm to any of them, of course. They should run as the independents they truly are, rather than expect the resource and labour of party members to earn office for them.
They tend to distract at best and ultimately can destroy votes for parties that hold back the achievement of their unifying goals. I am glad to say that the SNP and its membership are largely wise to that now.
Their leader Nicola Sturgeon commands their confidence. And they will accord her the respect of allowing her to lead because they know that is the route to electoral success and that she has what it takes in spades.
Unity and discipline are critical in any party but especially for one like the SNP which seeks to change the establishment and its vested interests. And those who say the new candidates and huge new membership are a problem for the SNP? Well watch this space.
My experience suggests that the membership of the SNP has never been more “normal” than it is now. It is more representative of the country than it ever has been. I know that each and every one of them will take their responsibility to choose very seriously. They must.
There is much talk of the list of potential celebrities who backed Yes in the referendum and may now run for the SNP. I think it is terrific if anyone is moved to seek office especially those able to capture the public imagination and channel it for good.
I was delighted to read that former footballer Michael Stewart is seeking the nomination for Edinburgh West. I know him to be smart, capable and to have real leadership potential and integrity.
But more importantly he is not seeking a safe or close marginal, he is running for the seat where he was born and where the SNP came fourth last time. Exactly the attitude that can win long term and I hope he succeeds.
But I also want to see a candidate team that reflects the country in all its forms. People of long experience and of fresh energy. People from the farms and from the schemes. All comers.
And lots of women of all sorts, please. Public life needs this. The lack of it is a glaring gap in our journey to civilisation. And a few single mothers among them would enrich things further.
My recent life experience has taught me just how much some individuals are sacrificing for others in many testing circumstances. That is the true spirit of public service that will carry this country far whatever way we vote.
I salute all the good people across the parties willing to serve. To the hustings.